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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

February 15, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Outdoor writer Dave Graybill finds winter angling nirvana at Lake Roosevelt

L. Roosevelt Me with Big BoyHere is a fishing report by Dave Graybill on Lake Roosevelt:

When other big lakes and reservoirs are vacant of anglers in the chill of winter, there are a surprising number of boats and shore anglers fishing at Lake Roosevelt.  The attraction is fast action for rainbow trout, and kokanee that are the largest in the state of Washington.  Often dealing with freezing, snowy and windy conditions these anglers are willing to tough it out as this reservoir offers the best winter fishing in our region.

This year will be particularly good for rainbow, according to Bill Baker, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist for the region.  “We release three-quarters of a million triploid rainbow into Lake Roosevelt every year,” he said.  “When we have very high water many of them are flushed down stream into Rufus Woods.  This year, though, we didn’t have the high water and they stayed in Roosevelt.  This should be the best rainbow fishing ever.”  He went on to say that most of the rainbow that anglers should expect to catch would be 15 to 16 inches with carryover rainbow to over 20 inches.

When I heard this I just had to go and give it a try.  A meal of fresh triploids is something I hadn’t had for a while, so I ran up to Coulee Dam and then traveled the two miles east to Spring Canyon Park.  When I arrived I did some looking and found a parking area just down stream of the swimming beach and hiked down to the water’s edge.  Here I set up two rods and baited one with a marshmallow and jarred shrimp and the other with nightcrawler. I always buy at two-pole permit for waters that allow it.

I then walked a ways down the beach to see if could see any sign of people fishing there, and when I looked back my rod, which had been propped against a small cooler, was skidding across the sand!  I raced back and reeled in a fat, 15-inch rainbow.  I paid more attention to my rods then, and in less than two hours had a five fish limit of trout weighing about a pound and a half.  They were all fin-clipped triploids.  I fillet them and had two for dinner with my wife that evening and they were fantastic.

I was using rods that were 7 ½ feet long and I put an ounce of weight above a barrel swivel so I could cast a good distance from shore to reach water that I figured was 10 to 12 feet deep.  I added three feet of eight-pound fluorocarbon leader and tied to a size 1 hook.  On one rod I put on a medium size marshmallow, big enough to float my bait off the bottom, and a night crawler. The rod I baited with a marshmallow and a jarred shrimp.  I found that the jarred shrimp, scented with Graybill’s Guide Formula salmon flavor, worked better than the nightcrawler.

L. Roosevelt Limit

When I was leaving I saw a boat at the dock and drove over to see what they had caught.  The angler was nice enough to pull out his bag of fish for me to inspect and I saw that he had four fish.  Two were the trout like the ones I had caught, but he also had a rainbow that weighed 3 pounds, 10 ounces and a kokanee that weighed a pound and half.  He had been trolling just off the shore here in Spring Canyon, with an orange Rapala on leaded line.  He and his wife had fished for three days and caught a total of 28 fish.

I made another trip up to Lake Roosevelt to see if could get some more of those nice triploid rainbow, and I had mixed results.  The first day I fished the afternoon from an area known affectionately as “Geezer’s Beach”, which is on the north side of Roosevelt just above the dam.  This is a very popular area for shore fishing, as you can drive right down to the water.  A Colville Tribal license is required to fish here, but people are willing to pay the fee the extra license for the convenience of this particular spot.  You can buy your Tribal Permit at Coulee Playland in Electric City. There was one angler there when I arrived and another one set up while we were fishing.  Still another stopped by to see how we were doing.  However, the fishing here was very slow last week.  One veteran angler said the fish hadn’t shown up here yet, implying that it will get better later in the winter.  The next day I went back to Spring Canyon Park and was joined by another angler who had read my report the previous week.  Fishing was very slow that day, and he got one rainbow and I got two.  One of my fish was 22 inches, though, so I called it a success.

Many anglers would be happy with the kind of rainbow fishing that is available at Lake Roosevelt, but others are targeting the kokanee in the lake and they think the rainbow just get in the way.  There are so many of them that they spend time releasing rainbow instead of catching kokanee.  You see kokanee are a special prize on Roosevelt.  While we get excited about kokanee that are 18 inches and weigh close to 2 pounds, the kokanee up here are commonly 3 or 4 pounds.  The state current state record came from Lake Roosevelt and is 6 ½ pounds.

Kokanee fishing is known to be best from January through March, when they are found near the surface.  Because they are so shallow many anglers use planing boards to get their lures away from the boat.  It is recommended that if you do not have these boards to put your baits 100 to 150 feet behind the boat.  When using the boards anglers still put their baits back 50 to 80 feet.  The recommended trolling speed is 1.5 to 2 mph.

Schools of kokanee are found anywhere from right off Spring Canyon Park up stream to Swawilla Basin.  Favored baits range from bright orange Rapalas to K-flies and pink hoochies.  Another Rapala that works well up here, and I have had good success with it for both rainbow and kokanee is the “purpledescent” color Rapala in size 7 or 9.  Anglers find that if they stay in deeper water they are not bothered as much by the rainbow, which seem to like the shallower water off the beaches.  You’ll still catch them, though, particularly this year as they are so plentiful.

The daily limit for rainbow is five fish with only two over 20 inches allowed, and is separate from the kokanee bag limit.  Up to six kokanee may be retained, but only two may be wild, or unclipped.

Spring Canyon is just two miles from the intersection as you enter Coulee Dam.  The launch fee is $6.00 and is good for a week.  The park is open all winter but there is no running water.  Everything from fuel to groceries to lodging is found in Coulee Dam.  Coulee House Inn and Suites is a great place to stay here, with clean, comfortable rooms and affordable winter rates.  It is popular with anglers fishing Lake Roosevelt and Rufus Woods Reservoir.  You can find out this place by logging onto

Anglers that fish this time of year may get funny looks.  It may seem crazy to be out fishing in freezing weather, but when easy limits of triploid rainbow are available you will see them out there.  Big kokanee are a prized species here in our region, and anglers will go to great lengths to get them.  The best place to find good numbers of super sized kokanee is at Lake Roosevelt, and it doesn’t matter how cold it gets, anglers will be out after them, all winter long.




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